Thursday 18 December 2014

It's Life, Jim...

Last night, belatedly, I caught up with the second of Jim Al-Khalili's two-part Secrets of Quantum Physics, and mind-boggling stuff it was, featuring the Quantum Robin, whose navigational skills depend on quantum entanglement, the Quantum Nose that doesn't smell but listens, the Quantum Frog whose metamorphosis depends on quantum effects - to say nothing of Quantum Ghosts, Quantum Weirdness, proton jumps and quantum mutations. Al-Khalili was exploring the emerging field of quantum biology, which sees quantum effects not as strange things that happen at the subatomic level and don't affect the 'real' macroscopic world,  but as essential elements in all the processes of life. If this approach is right - and Al-Khalili certainly made a strong case - the possibilities are endless, and life (in the scientific sense) suddenly becomes vastly stranger and more interesting.
 Most science documentaries I find either boring or annoying, or both. Too many of them overdress their assertions and explications with dazzling graphics and camerawork; too many are dogmatic and/or bombastic and overreach themselves. With Secrets of Quantum Physics, however (a low-budget production), the content was so strange and fascinating that it needed no dressing up and could hardly be illustrated - so Al-Khalili, rather endearingly, made do with a range of balls of various sizes and colours, the larger ones reminiscent of The Prisoner. They worked rather well.

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